Emerson Woelffer American, 1914-2003


Emerson Woelffer developed a distinctive expressive vocabulary of pure color, line and shape. His signature works are bold, jagged-edged abstractions that look as if they “just fell into place”.


Woelffer was one of California's foremost painters, collagists, teachers, and a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism on the West Coast. In the early 1950s, he was instrumental in bringing the ideas and influences of European Modernism to Los Angeles at a time when the nascent art scene there was disconnected from avant-garde movements in New York and San Francisco. Woelffer was widely regarded as “the grandfather of L.A. Modernism.”


Woelffer was educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and joined the W.P.A.’s Federal Art Project in 1938. In 1949 he taught at Black Mountain College, an experimental art school, at the request of Buckminster Fuller. In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles, California and from 1969 to 1973 he taught at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. He taught again between 1974 and 1989 at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. He was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Grant and Francis Greenberger Award, in conjunction with the Guggenheim Museum in New York. His paintings, collages, and works on paper have been exhibited throughout the country and in 2003 he was featured at REDCAT Gallery for a retrospective curated by his former student, Ed Ruscha.

Museums and Public Collections

Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Museum of Modern Art  

Whitney Museum of AmericanArt, New York

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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